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White: Iraqis ‘don’t want democracy'

03 May 2013


Tallying up: electoral workers count ballots in Baghdad last week

Tallying up: electoral workers count ballots in Baghdad last week

ABOUT half of the 14 million Iraqis who were eligible to vote in the provincial elections last month exercised their democratic right, despite a sharp rise in sectarian violence in the days leading up to polling. Voting day itself passed off relatively peacefully. The results have yet to be declared, nearly two weeks after voting.

Although the sectarian violence largely involved attacks by Sunni armed groups - members of al-Qaeda or supporters of the former Ba'ath regime - on Shia targets, the tension has affected the population at large.

Elections in two Sunni provinces in central and western Iraq, where weeks of demonstrations against the Shia-led government have taken place, were postponed. The government said that security there could not be guaranteed to allow a free vote. But the Sunnis themselves interpreted the postponement of the poll as a further indication of their community's marginalisation at the hands of the Shia authorities in Baghdad.

On Tuesday of last week, about 30 people were killed in clashes between security forces and Sunni protesters at an anti-government protest camp near Kirkuk, in northern Iraq.

The Chaplain of St George's, Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, returned to Iraq two weeks ago, on the eve of polling. In just one incident in the capital on the same day, 27 Iraqis were killed by a bomb detonated in a café fre-quented mostly by young people. At least 100 people had been killed across the country in the preceding week.

Canon White said that he had decided to go back "because things were terrible. But what I found is worse than I could have ever imagined. We cannot move, even with my police and army security." For the first time, he said, St George's was being forced to cancel a service. "Today is the worst war-zone I have ever seen."

Canon White believes that the intense violence that has accompanied the election campaign calls into question the value of democracy in Iraq. "It is fine for people to say we are going to bring democracy to the Middle East. We don't want it. It does not work here; it just causes massive death and destruction."

The provincial elections were the first since United States forces withdrew from Iraq at the end of 2011. While the authorities will take comfort from the fact that voting itself went off without major incident, no fewer than 14 candidates were killed during campaigning, and many others were intimidated and withdrew.

Despite the dangers surrounding the elections, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon and Archbishop of Baghdad, the Most Revd Louis Raphael Sako, had urged members of the dwindling Christian community in Iraq to vote. He told Vatican Radio that Christians should "vote for people who can do something for them, and work for their rights and interests".

Archbishop Sako said that he believed that the plight of Iraqi Christians had improved slightly, because, in general, they were no longer the targets of the sectarian violence. There were widespread bombings in Iraq, "but nothing against Christians as it was before that. Christians can have their jobs and work. But the problem is the future. There is no real stabil- ity; so all Iraqis, not just Christians, are a little bit worried about the future."

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